Five senior men shared life stories and insights on identity in the annual "Men of Dartmouth" panel discussion, held in Collis Common Ground on Wednesday.
The five men of the Class of 2011 Tom, Kyle, Angelo, Tim and Chris discussed their struggles and successes, and how those have contributed to their identity as men.
The students' last names have been withheld on their request, due to the personal nature of the event.
Tom grew up in a household largely guided by females his mother and three sisters as his father spent much of his time and energy providing for the family.
"I wasn't introduced formally to what it meant to be an American male," he said.
Tom said he tried multiple "prepackaged identities" in middle and high school, including a "mohawk-wearing punk rocker" and an "Abercrombie and Fitch preppy boy." After he graduated from high school in 2002, Tom motivated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks enlisted in the Marines and was eventually deployed to Iraq with his training platoon. While Tom returned home after his tour, he did so with shrapnel injuries from a car bomb.
He went on to attend community college in Philadelphia and received a grant to study in Germany, before being accepted into Dartmouth, he said.
"I had such high expectations of this place that it was probably unhealthy and certainly unwise," he said.
Tom urged students to remember that attending an Ivy League institution is a privilege and lamented the lack of intellectual discussion outside of Dartmouth classrooms.
"With the unbelievable quality and amount of intellectual capital concentrated here amongst us men at Dartmouth, why do we still disrespect ourselves by not making the most of our time here or, even worse, disrespecting the equally amazing women of Dartmouth?" Tom asked.
Tom said that he thinks respect is an integral part of being a man.
"Binge drinking and taking advantage of women are, in fact, symptoms of an unhealthy self image, a frail self confidence and skewed perception of what it is to be a man," he said.
With his father largely separate from his life and his mother struggling with drug addiction, Kyle said that he was arrested three times before he entered high school twice for fighting and once for vandalism.
"I got in a lot of trouble when I was young," he said. "It was a part of the culture. You get picked on, you learn to fight, you fight back."
In seventh grade, Kyle said he reached a turning point in his life when he was caught stealing cookies from the cafeteria. His middle school administrators told him that his record would follow him into high school, which led to a change in his behavior.
"It bothered me that people would judge me before they had even met me," he said.
Kyle stopped getting into fights and joined student council in the eighth grade and continued to serve in student government throughout high school. He said he was fortunate to live near his extended family and that his grandmother provided him with a great deal of support and guidance.
Kyle said he understood the importance of receiving a good education as a way of overcoming the struggles that plagued him earlier in life.
"My mother wasn't always there mentally or physically," he said. "I had a brother who was handicapped, and he needed someone to take care of him."
At Dartmouth, Kyle said he did not initially feel that he had the academic prowess to excel at an Ivy League institution. During a particularly difficult time in his Dartmouth career, Kyle said he went to the Registrar's office and completed paperwork to transfer to the University of Cincinnati.
Kyle decided to stay at Dartmouth, however, after remembering that he originally enrolled to support his family the best he possibly could.
"I keep firmly in the front of my mind that I want to provide the best situation for my mother and grandparents, as well as my children the future," he said.
Angelo, who struggled with self-destructive behaviors, said that he justified neglecting his health by serving others.
"Expectations are placed upon us, whether knowingly or not," he said.
Angelo said that the high expectations that his peers and mentors placed on him at Dartmouth forced him into self-isolation. He spent many nights crying or screaming into his pillow because of this pressure, he said.
"I lived with a constant facade while here, pretending to be great because everyone else said I was," he said. "I remember the deep emotional pain I felt. It was so physical that I remember clutching my chest in agony."
Angelo began subjecting himself to physical pain, including cutting himself and putting out cigarette butts on his skin.
"I led the most insane double life here campus leader by day, suicidal by night," he said.
When Angelo heard that one of his friends from home had hanged himself, he said he thought, "How lucky [my friend] was to get to escape this screwed-up world."
Angelo began contemplating suicide but eventually took advantage of campus resources. He said that he delayed acknowledging his troubles and asking for help for fear of being perceived as incompetent or undeserving of respect or honors, a belief that was fueled by the high standards to which others held him.
Angelo added that he sought counseling for his depression and is now better able to balance helping others and making his own health a priority.
"I want to say thank you to my depression for the long journey in self-discovery it has made possible for me," he said.
Tim discussed the influence of his family and his faith on his Dartmouth experience and self-development.
At the beginning of his Dartmouth career, Tim said that he did not pray as frequently as he did in high school and did not feel as close to God as he previously had.
"I was focused on doing well on these tangible, measurable things getting good grades and performing well on the [football] field," he said.
Tim explained that, having attended a Catholic high school with a strong community of Catholic friends, teachers, coaches and family prior to coming to Dartmouth, he was surprised by the very different atmosphere he found at the College
"It hit me that I was in a minority in terms of my beliefs and moral outlook," he said.
Tim found that his values of abstaining from sex until marriage and maintaining an active spiritual life starkly contrasted with the actions of many of his peers, but he said he was able to find strength in a group of supportive friends.
Tim said that he feels fortunate for the challenges that he faced at Dartmouth, as they allowed him to reaffirm his faith.
"It would have been so easy to go to a Catholic school, but that would not have been a challenge I would not have been able to take ownership of my faith," he said.
Chris said that the "culture of excellence" that pervades Dartmouth can make the campus both a special and an alienating place.
"We're all pushed to the pursuit of perfection to reject our human qualities and shun our idiosyncrasies that are all critical in the learning process."
Chris talked about his struggles with weight gain and loss while at Dartmouth, which he said were rooted in the College's culture of excellence.
"I could not reconcile my hunger and sense of guilt," he explained.
Chris added that he hoped to bring attention to the fact that men, as well as women, face poor body images.
"Men are also concerned with their bodies and, as complex human beings, have issues with their body image and self-confidence as well," he said.
Chris said that the stereotypical images of Dartmouth men as fit, confident and masculine made it difficult for him to openly discuss his struggles with weight.
"The stereotypical idea that Dartmouth men are fit and confident and dominate the campus with their machismo, I think should be examined," he said. "As a Dartmouth man, I am trying to deal with my insecurities inside of this environment of masculinity and excellence."